FOXBORO, Mass. — His arm muscles bulge. He has powerful legs that drive him into defensive linemen. Bruce Armstrong is 280 well-formed pounds of a menacing physical specimen.
New England's rookie right tackle has discovered quickly, though, that in the NFL you knock people over with your mind as much as your body.
Armstrong, who majored in political science at Louisville, has picked up in a short time the intricacies of a position that usually take years to learn. The first-round draft choice is a rare bright spot in the Patriots' dim season.
"Everybody gets beat physically, but he doesn't make the mental mistakes," Ron Wooten, who plays right guard beside Armstrong, said.
In the NFL, Armstrong said, defensive linemen "try not so much to beat you (physically) as they try to fool you, make one person make a mistake and capitalize on it.
"Let's say they run a stunt and you and the guard both double team one man. It can be a beautiful double team block. You can put him flat on his back. It's a total wipeout, but the linebacker gets through.
"Who wins? You destroyed this man, but the linebacker made the play. You didn't do the right thing."
Armstrong has been doing the right thing at an unusually frequent rate for a rookie who is new to his position.
He was a tight end as a freshman and sophomore, a tackle as a junior and a guard as a senior. New England took him with the 23rd pick of the draft and put him in the right tackle spot occupied by Steve Moore until he broke his ankle last season.
Despite a preseason shoulder injury, Armstrong is one of only two offensive linemen to start every non-strike game for the Patriots, who were preseason favorites to win the AFC East title but are 5-7 going into Sunday's game against the New York Jets.
"What surprised me about him is he started off strong. He didn't really make what you'd term rookie mistakes," said Wooten, a seven-year veteran who also has started every non-strike game. "He didn't have any trouble, even in a year when our pass protection schemes have changed from week to week.
"We have a very active dialogue the whole game, which I've never been able to get with other tackles. Coming onto our team, I remember somebody saying that he might be the smartest player in the draft."
Armstrong can tolerate being overpowered by a defensive lineman. He is much harsher on himself if he gets beaten because he made a mental mistake.
"That's unforgivable," he said.